Why Standing Stones?

Why Standing Stones?

In ancient Israel, people stood stones on their end to commemorate a powerful move of God in their lives. It was a memorial to something God spoke or revealed or did. Often these standing stones became reference points in their lives. Today, we can find reference points in the written Word of God. Any scripture or sermon can speak something powerful into our lives, or reveal something of the nature of God. In this blog I offer, what can become a reference point for Christians, taken from God's ancient word and applied to today's world.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Bitter Generation

We are part of a bitter generation.  Many of us are overwhelmed by past slights and offenses.  So overwhelmed that there’s no room for forgiveness and in our zeal for revenge we hurt others and the hurts we inflict on them lead to their own bitterness.  This is a generation that demands redress for past hurts…often we are driven by revenge.

In the book Moby Dick there is a violent confrontation at sea, the great whale had sliced off Ahab’s leg.  He was then carried to his bunk and forced to endure the trip home; long days and nights, thinking about the pain and suffering laying blame on the whale.  Look at Melville’s description of this episode:

For long months of days and weeks, Ahab and anguish lay stretched together in one hammock, rounding in midwinter that dreary, howling Patagonian Cape, then it was that his torn body and gashed soul bled into one another and so interfusing, made him mad.

Ahab responded to this, as a man possessed of bitterness.  Obsessed with hate, he set his face to search out and destroy Moby Dick, whatever the cost.  He fitted a ship, hired a crew, and mounted a voyage of vengeance, which led to his death, the destruction of his ship, and the loss of all men except one, Ishmael, who lived to tell the tale.

Ahab is a picture of our generation.  Road rage is a manifestation of bitterness, as the driver who made an error is pursued and injured or killed.  Racism and prejudice are manifestations of bitterness.  We aren't accepting people at face value, allowing past hurts and misunderstandings to color our view of another person, judging them on their skin color rather than their character.

We've used bitterness as a way of achieving political goals.  Bitterness doesn't unite it divides.  Bitterness doesn't heal it undermines.  Bitterness is bred by cynicism.  Bitterness is a condition of the heart:

Proverbs 14:10 (NKJV)
14:10 The heart knows its own bitterness, And a stranger does not share its joy.

Cynicism and bitterness are a symptom of sin and rebellion.  They’re carnal thoughts; they’re of the flesh and when we’re in our flesh we’re enemies of God. 

Today I want to post on bitterness from this text:

Genesis 49:5-7 (NKJV)
49:5 "Simeon and Levi are brothers; Instruments of cruelty are in their dwelling place. 6 Let not my soul enter their council; Let not my honor be united to their assembly; For in their anger they slew a man, And in their self-will they hamstrung an ox. 7 Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce; And their wrath, for it is cruel! I will divide them in Jacob And scatter them in Israel.

The Separation of Bitterness

Robertson McQuilkin, first president of Columbia International University, once said:

“The sin of unforgiveness is a cancer that destroys relationships, eats away at one’s
own psyche, and – worst of all – shuts us off from God’s grace.”

Our text takes place as Jacob is preparing to die.  He’s called his sons to himself in order to bless them.  These are his final words.  These are the things that he is trying to speak into their lives.  This is the moment when he is trying to impart something personal to each son, he’s speaking to their future; he’s speaking to their character and in what those things will result.  He’s prophesying over their lives.

The prophecy that he speaks over Simeon and Levi isn't a blessing, is it?   He’s speaking of them being divided, “Let not my soul enter into their council:  Let not my honor be united to their assembly.”  He’s saying that he doesn't want to be associated with them.  He’s their father, why would he seek to be separate them from himself?  What’s caused this separation between them?  We can look at the story in Genesis 34 and see the problem as it arises.  First, there was an offense:

Genesis 34:1-4 (NKJV)
34:1 Now Dinah the daughter of Leah, whom she had borne to Jacob, went out to see the daughters of the land. 2 And when Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, prince of the country, saw her, he took her and lay with her, and violated her. 3 His soul was strongly attracted to Dinah the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the young woman and spoke kindly to the young woman. 4 So Shechem spoke to his father Hamor, saying, "Get me this young woman as a wife."

Shechem has violated their sister.  They’re undoubtedly angry…and rightfully so.  Shechem has caused injury to this young woman and they’re righteously angry.  We don’t have to stand by and watch as those we love are violated; as we ourselves are violated.

Ephesians 4:26 (NKJV)
4:26 "Be angry, and do not sin": do not let the sun go down on your wrath,

There will be anger in our lives, toward injustice and violation, but allowing that anger to control us is sin.  Look at what happens next:

Genesis 34:8-9 (NKJV)
34:8 But Hamor spoke with them, saying, "The soul of my son Shechem longs for your daughter. Please give her to him as a wife. 9 And make marriages with us; give your daughters to us, and take our daughters to yourselves.

Genesis 34:11-12 (NKJV)
34:11 Then Shechem said to her father and her brothers, "Let me find favor in your eyes, and whatever you say to me I will give. 12 Ask me ever so much dowry and gift, and I will give according to what you say to me; but give me the young woman as a wife."

Shechem violated Dinah, but we see a desire on his part to make it right.  Shechem wants to do the right thing here.  She’s been defiled and so she’s undesirable for any other man, but Shechem wants to marry her.  Look at Simeon and Levi’s response to this situation:

Genesis 34:14-15 (NKJV)
34:14 And they said to them, "We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one who is uncircumcised, for that would be a reproach to us. 15 But on this condition we will consent to you: If you will become as we are, if every male of you is circumcised,

Genesis 34:25-26 (NKJV)
34:25 Now it came to pass on the third day, when they were in pain, that two of the sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah's brothers, each took his sword and came boldly upon the city and killed all the males. 26 And they killed Hamor and Shechem his son with the edge of the sword, and took Dinah from Shechem's house, and went out.

Genesis 34:29 (NKJV)
34:29 and all their wealth. All their little ones and their wives they took captive; and they plundered even all that was in the houses.

They destroyed all that was in Shechem, because the bitterness that had arisen in them over the violation of Dinah, had exploded into rage.  The whole scene is an act of rage, but it’s in response to bitterness.  Look at what happens in the end:

Genesis 34:30 (NKJV)
34:30 Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, "You have troubled me by making me obnoxious among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites; and since I am few in number, they will gather themselves together against me and kill me. I shall be destroyed, my household and I."

Relationships were destroyed.  Jacob became offensive to the people who lived in the area, because of the cruelty of Simeon and Levi.  This is an interesting moment in scripture, because they were offended, there was a horrendous thing that was done to their innocent and decent sister.  Many times in our lives when things happen to us, we’re justified in our indignation at an event or over some terrible thing that’s been perpetrated on us.  Bitterness is not an answer, because it divides, it destroys relationships and often results in even more horrendous things being done.  In this situation, innocent men were killed.  Children were deprived of their fathers.  Women and children were taken into slavery.  Now it isn't one person who suffers but many, many more.

A number of years ago, there was a young man who killed thirty-two people at Virginia Tech University.  His rationale was that young woman rejected him, she was the first person killed, but he went on a rampage and killed thirty others and finally himself.  In the midst of all of this he’d sent a press release to the local television news, outlining and detailing every hurt that he’d received.  He focused on wealthy young people and women who had hurt him.  His bitterness had coalesced into rage and revenge, and damaged hundreds of people.

Think about his family, his parents.  How has this affected them?  Think about the families of those innocents who’d been killed.  Maybe this young man had legitimate cause for anger.  Maybe he was justified in that.  Maybe he had been mistreated and beaten down, but the question is, “Has his bitterness and revenge liberated him?”  No, he’s been destroyed; killed by his own bullet, and he’s destroyed innocent lives. 

What will bitterness buy you and I?  We may never commit and act like this.  We may never act out on our bitterness is rage like this.  We may just store it up, seething at the mention of a name, becoming enraged by this person’s good fortune and as a result isolating ourselves from everyone else.

Think about this for a moment.  Have you ever known someone who is consumed with hatred for someone else?  How much fun are they to be around?  How often do you go looking for them to spend a pleasant afternoon?  I find it tedious, at best, to be around people who can’t ever get off the subject of someone who’s hurt him or her.  Most people do, and so what we do is stay away from that person.  Bitterness isolates.

The Loss of Inheritance

Genesis 49:7 (NKJV)
49:7 Cursed be their anger, for it is fierce; And their wrath, for it is cruel! I will divide them in Jacob And scatter them in Israel.

This portion of our text speaks of our inheritance.  We must understand that Jacob is speaking in prophecy here.  In other words this is God speaking through the lips of Jacob.  Prophetically, he’s speaking of their inheritance.  He’s looking into the future.  He’s looking into the promise of God to Abraham, that they will be given the land of Canaan.  He’s telling them that because of what they’ve done they won’t see an inheritance of their own.  Their portion will go to Joseph’s sons Ephraim and Manassas.  The portions of Simeon and Levi’s descendants will be scattered throughout the land given to other tribes.

In the book of Joshus we see the fulfillment of this prophecy:

Joshua 19:9 (NKJV)
19:9 The inheritance of the children of Simeon was included in the share of the children of Judah, for the share of the children of Judah was too much for them. Therefore the children of Simeon had their inheritance within the inheritance of that people.

Joshua 21:3 (NKJV)
21:3 So the children of Israel gave to the Levites from their inheritance, at the commandment of the Lord, these cities and their common-lands:
The tribe of Simeon was scattered throughout Judah.  The same is true of the Levites, they were given cities throughout Israel.  Bitterness and rage cost them their own inheritance and it will cost us as well.  Bitterness is a spiritual poison that leads to our being bound by iniquity or the “stain of sin.”  Look at what Peter says to Simon who has offered money for the gift of the Holy Spirit.  He’s seen the power and he wants it for himself for his own gain:

Acts 8:23 (NKJV)
8:23 For I see that you are poisoned by bitterness and bound by iniquity."

You are POISONED by BITTERNESS and bound by iniquity.

Do you remember the story of a former KGB agent who received a dose of Polonium?  Polonium is a radioactive isotope.  It acts like a poison in the system.  He lost his hair, his organs slowly shut down, and eventually he died.  Bitterness is a spiritual poison that will eventually result in spiritual death. The book of Hebrews also speaks of bitterness:

Hebrews 12:15 (NKJV)
12:15 looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble, and by this many become defiled;

A root of bitterness defiles us; we are made foul, or filthy.  Those that were defiled were unable to enter into the temple or the presence of God.  We will be unable to enter in to the kingdom, if we are defiled by bitterness.  In other words, straight out, bitterness is sin.  The bitter will not receive the inheritance that God has for them.  We are living in a generation that is defiled by bitterness.

The Antidote is Forgiveness

Every cat knows, some things must be buried – Ruth Bell Graham

Someone else said, “When you bury the hatchet, don’t bury it in your neighbors head.”

The problem for us is that we have a tendency to dwell on injury and that causes the injury to become larger in our eyes.  We had this dog that had a cyst on his foot.  It was swollen and I would imagine that it was a little tender.  He continued to lick it; he licked it all the time.  Any time he wasn’t engaged in something else, he was licking his foot.  The result was it became more visible.  He licked the hair off it, it seemed larger, and it was shiny and more noticeable.  It looked worse than it really was.  We took him to the bet and the only way to cure that cyst was to cut it away.

The same thing is true with dwelling on past hurts.  The hurt becomes larger and has more impact on us than before.  If the dog continued to mess with that cyst it would become an open wound and become infected.  The same thing is true of our psyche; we must cut the injury free.  The cutting takes place through forgiveness.

We must allow the injury to be removed to rid ourselves of the pain.  At some point you just have to let it go, before it destroys you.

A number of years ago a man walked into an Amish school and lined up a number of young girls and killed them.  This was a powerful injury to that community.  What a horrible thing to face; the death of innocent young girls.  If anyone had a right to seek revenge it was this community.  If anyone had been horribly wronged it was this community.  But they didn’t dwell on the hurt.  They grieved; they buried the children and then as a community they forgave this man who murdered their daughters.

Did the forgiveness help the murderer?  No, he still suffered the in the guilt of what he had done.  He was still prosecuted for the crime and will still face the punishment as set by the courts, but the Amish were released.  They were able to get beyond the pain.  Do you think those parents felt like forgiving?  How would you feel if your child was murdered?  Would forgiveness be the first thing you felt for the murderer?  Probably not, most of us would want to return the favor wouldn’t we?  We love the scripture “an eye for and eye…” don’t we?  It appeals to our sense of justice, but what does Jesus say?

Matthew 5:38-39 (NKJV)
5:38 "You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.' 39 But I tell you not to resist an evil person. But whoever slaps you on your right cheek, turn the other to him also.

Jesus says, that we should endure injury without inflicting injury back.

Luke 6:27-28 (NKJV)
6:27 "But I say to you who hear: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, and pray for those who spitefully use you.

These things aren’t easy, though.  There not things we would do naturally. He’s telling us we must forgive.

Matthew 6:14-15 (NKJV)
6:14 "For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15 But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.

So we need to make a choice to forgive.  It isn’t a natural reaction; it’s a reaction of will.  It’s something we must make ourselves do.  If you seek forgiveness you must first forgive.

When John Wesley was traveling by ship to America he heard a strange noise in the cabin of General Oglethorpe, the Governor of Virginia.  Wesley stepped in to see what was happening.  The General’s servant had stolen and drunk the entire stock of the general’s favorite wine.

“But I will be avenged,” the general shouted.  Then he ordered the servant bound hand and foot and taken away for severe punishment.  “For you know Mr. Wesley, I never forgive.”  Wesley replied, “In that case sir, I hope you never sin.”

The general was chastened by Wesley’s rebuke, took out his keys and threw them at his servant saying, “There, villain, take my keys and behave better in the future.”

His natural instinct was for revenge and punishment; he had to make an effort to forgive.  Wesley pointed out what it means to live out the scripture.  If you can’t forgive how can you expect to be forgiven.

Finally, there is the example of Jesus.  He’d been scourged; He’d been beaten.  He’d been mocked, ridiculed and humiliated.  He’d been hung on a cross to die a slow and agonizing death.  As he hung there, there was no repentance on the part of his tormenters and murderers.  The Romans didn’t care about his death.  The Temple leaders were delighted in His death; they continued to mock Him.  Jesus, himself says he could have called down twelve legions of angels to protect Him.  Instead of crying out for vengeance, He cried out “Father, forgive them.”  He’s not asking us to do anything He hasn’t done himself.  We gain nothing by bitterness but more suffering.  By forgiving we gain eternal life.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Burn Baby; Burn!

We always talk about Revival as if it’s a fire:  A burning, all-consuming fire.  That’s the image isn't it? 

There’s a legend that travels throughout fellowship.  I've heard about it.  I know some people who claim to have been there, but to me, it’s one of those legends that you hear sometimes.  Here’s the story, Evangelist Harry Hills was preaching a revival somewhere.  I’m not sure what the city was where he was preaching, but the revival was marked with a number of powerful miracles, words of knowledge and other things.  The church was rocking. It was a very powerful time.  All of a sudden the fire department shows up, because people had called them that the church was burning.  They saw flames rising out of the roof of the church, and so they called the fire department.  When they arrived there was no fire, it was Holy Ghost revival. 

Like I said, to me, this is the stuff of legends.  I don’t know whether or not this is true, but I've heard it a number of times.  The point is that revival is always associated with fire.  Look at our songs, Revival Fire; Burn in Me; It’s that Holy Ghost and fire; The Word of God is Like a Fire, popular worship songs.  That’s as good a description as any, because it does feel like a fire.  It’s a burning desire to see the will of God play out through people coming to Jesus.

In this post, I want to look at that image of revival as a fire burning out of control.  A fire, a forest fire burns in three stages.  The first is ignition; a spark ignites the dry grass.  The second stage is a blaze; the fire begins to grow in intensity.  The third stage of a forest fire is conflagration; the fire is burning out of control.  I want to apply this to the pioneer church or the church that is on the edge of revival.

Acts 9:32-35 (NKJV)
9:32 Now it came to pass, as Peter went through all parts of the country, that he also came down to the saints who dwelt in Lydda. 33 There he found a certain man named Aeneas, who had been bedridden eight years and was paralyzed. 34 And Peter said to him, "Aeneas, Jesus the Christ heals you. Arise and make your bed." Then he arose immediately. 35 So all who dwelt at Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.

The Ignition Point

When a fire has burned, the investigators come out and try to understand what caused the fire.  How did it start?  Was it arson?  The first thing they look for is the ignition point:  The place where the fire started.  The fire will ignite and begin to burn in one direction, widening out as it burns.  So there is literally a “V” that grows out from the ignition point.  The firemen follow the “V” back to the ignition point, in order to look for evidence about the way the fire ignited.

In our text it may seem like a little thing that Peter has done.  We see him dealing only with one lame man:  A man who has been bedridden for eight years, but this is the ignition point.  This is the place where the fire began to burn.  This is the beginning of the fire in that place.  Look at the last line in our text, “So all who dwelt at Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.” 

This is where revival started in Lydda.  Lydda was approximately twenty-five miles north of Jerusalem.  It’s located on the crossroads of the highway that leads from Egypt to Syria, and the highway that leads from Jerusalem to Joppa.  This is a key place.  There were many people who traveled those highways engaged in trade and other things.  It’s key because revival could easily travel to other places from this location. 

Here it is… It starts with one man healed.  It starts like a huge forest fire at one small ignition point.  If you had been there, it would have seemed to be one small thing; a guy gets healed.  That's it, one man is healed of an affliction, but it is the beginning of a city turning to the Lord. 

In the beginning of revival, it’s unseen.  It’s working in the hearts of people.  I've read about the second Great Awakening, this is a revival that took place in the United States between 1820 and 1840.  According to Wikipedia, this revival “enrolled millions of people in existing evangelical denominations and led to the formation of new denominations.”  In other words, millions of people were saved.

Look at this from Christianity.com

“The second Great Awakening had a greater affect on society than any other revival in America.”

It started quietly as a movement in 1790, thirty years before it exploded into revival.  It was unseen; it was a quiet movement that existed mostly in the prayers of the people. 

A preacher named John Erskine published a fervent plea for prayer, and a man named Isaac Backus answered that plea.  John Erskine and Isaac Backus were the ignition point for the greatest revival in American history.  In 1792, they began to pray.  They started this revival, but it was unseen.  It wasn't a huge burning fire, it wasn't even a small blaze; it was a spark in these two men’s hearts.  That’s how revival starts.

If you were to look at Taiwan right now, it doesn't look like a revival.  There’s no huge burning fire, carrying revival across this nation.  No, there’s only one small congregation in Taoyuan City and another in a small city called Pingzhen:  Two pastors praying for growth and impact in their cities.  In 1792, that was the ignition of powerful change in one nation, and in 2014 it can be the same thing  in your city.  Our congregation can be the ignition point.  In Lydda, it was one man praying for another man that started a fire burning there. 

There’s one other aspect that’s need for fire to ignite, and that’s fuel – dry grass, ready to be ignited. In Southern California, there’s very little rain.  Most of the rain that does fall, falls in the months of January and February.  By August grass that grew up in the rains of January and February is dead and dry.  It will easily ignite from a spark, a match, or a cigarette butt casually thrown on the ground. 

Fire usually ignites in the dry areas.  It doesn't ignite near the water.  It takes place in the areas that are dried out:  The areas where the ground thirsts.  It’s the same for revival fire.  Revival fire ignites in hearts that are dry and thirsty.  Look at something David says:

Psalms 63:1-2 (NKJV)
63:1 A Psalm of David when he was in the wilderness of Judah. O God, You are my God; Early will I seek You; My soul thirsts for You; My flesh longs for You In a dry and thirsty land Where there is no water. 2 So I have looked for You in the sanctuary, To see Your power and Your glory.

Look at what he’s saying.  He’s painting a picture of a dry place.  His soul is thirsting for God.  A dry and thirsty land where there’s no water.  It’s the same as the image of a land before a fire takes place.  His heart is dry; it’s missing the water of life.  It’s a perfect picture of the place where a fire would ignite.

What does he do?  He goes looking for God.  He goes into the sanctuary to find God, to find His power and glory.  Is your heart full of God or are you thirsty for God?  Is your heart a dry place, or is it a river of God’s living water?  Are you seeking God’s power and glory…the igniters of fire in dry places?  Those things are the things that will bring revival. 

In our text people saw a man healed:  A man that they knew.  They could see all that had transpired.  They found God’s power.

When Jesus’ friend Lazarus died, his sisters sent for Him, but Jesus tarried.  He told His disciples:

John 11:4 (NKJV)
11:4 When Jesus heard that, He said, "This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified through it."

They witnessed the glory of God and the fire of revival ignited in that place.

John 11:45 (NKJV)
11:45 Then many of the Jews who had come to Mary, and had seen the things Jesus did, believed in Him.

The same thing happened in Lydda.  A man was healed by the power of God.  The people witnessed the glory of God.  “All who dwelt in Lydda and Sharon turned to the Lord.”  One healing was an ignition point.

The Blaze

There’s a point in any forest fire where the fire can still be easily contained.  I once watched a fire that had started in some dry grass; it quickly got past one person’s ability to contain it.  The wind was blowing a little and the fire grew quickly.  It began to blaze along the side of the road and the fire department showed up.  Within 45 minutes the fire was surrounded and put out.  If the fire department hadn't shown up when they did, the fire would have gotten out of control and started to really burn, but there was a time that the fire department could come and extinguish the fire while it was still a small blaze.

In a revival this is a critical moment.  The fire is a manageable size, and guess what, there are people who don’t want to see a great fire of revival begin to burn.  They want to put it out while it’s still manageable.  Have you seen this?  These are people who want to control what God is doing.  They’re looking to keep things small.  We see them all the time.  They don’t want to get too much of God.  They resist His calling on their lives. 

“I don’t want to be in church, too much.”

“I don’t wan to give a full tithe.”

I don’t want to be prayed for…to be healed.”

I don’t want to let anyone too close.”

We try to contain it when it’s small.  When it’s just starting to grow in our heart.  We worry we can’t control it.  We’re afraid things might get out of our control.  Can I tell you something?  Some people need to get a little out of control.  Some people are worried about what would happen if they got turned on for God. 

When I first got saved I thought it was an intellectual exercise.  I was the great analytical personality.  I looked at everything like this, “Hmmm, how does that work?”   If there was something I didn't understand I had to figure it out, according to what I already knew.  Things were happening to me that I couldn't explain, though.  Things were happening that didn't fit into my experience.

I couldn't analyze it all.  I saw people get healed, I mean really healed.  I saw people give up careers to serve God.  I saw people gladly leave their homes and their jobs and their friends to move to other nations.  None of it fit my frame of reference.  I couldn't come up with an answer for why.  That’s always the big question of the truly analytical…why?  The search for that answer is like dropping a big, wet blanket over revival.  The blaze gets smothered and the fire goes out.

Why do some people get healed, but others don’t?  I don’t know.  Why does God want us to speak in tongues?  I don’t know.  Wouldn't it be easier if we knew what we were saying?  Maybe it would, I don’t know.  Why does God think like He does?  I don’t know.  Why did God rig it so that Jesus had to die in order for us to be forgiven?  I.  Don’t.  Know.  What I do know, though, is that that word "why" kills faith, because you’re looking for answers within you that you don’t have.  Why does God let bad things happen to good people?   I don’t know, but I believe that God loves us.  I believe that God has our best interest in mind.  I believe the best answer for all of mankind’s problems is Jesus.

You need to let the fire grow in you.  Revival changed the course of history in the first century:  That fire started in some hearts in Jerusalem, then spread to Lydda and Sharon, then Joppa, all the way to Rome and finally, around the world.  That revival could have easily been snuffed out as a small blaze that had begun in Jerusalem.

Acts 8:2-3 (NKJV)
8:2 And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. 3 As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.

In fact that’s the devil’s strategy.  That’s what he tries to do, but it can backfire on him.  Saul was tormenting the church; people were forced to scatter for their own safety.  That could have extinguished the blaze right there.  It could have killed the revival, but people went to other places and began to preach the Gospel showing God’s power and glory and others came to Jesus in those places.  Samaria was one place:

Acts 8:4-6 (NKJV)
8:4 Therefore those who were scattered went everywhere preaching the word. 5 Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preached Christ to them. 6 And the multitudes with one accord heeded the things spoken by Philip, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did.

Antioch was another:

Acts 11:20-21 (NKJV)
11:20 But some of them were men from Cyprus and Cyrene, who, when they had come to Antioch, spoke to the Hellenists, preaching the Lord Jesus. 21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number believed and turned to the Lord.

The power and glory of God built into a blaze.  It could have easily been controlled at this point, but it went out of control, because people didn't keep wondering why; they just believed and let God move them.


The third stage of a fire is conflagration.  In this stage the fire is burning out of control.  It consumes everything in its path.  What’s really interesting about forest fires is that they can create their own weather systems.  Winds begin to blow out from the center of the fire from the rising heat and expanding air.  The winds blow out from the center and push the fire out farther out.  It actually causes the fire to spread faster than it was. 

Revival is the same way.  If we allow it to ignite and burn, and it gets away from us, it will grow out of control and revival will push itself.  The first century revival spread around the world.  It became something that powered itself.  It grew on its own, that’s how it could continue to grow long after the leaders of the early revival had all died off.  Nobody can strategize that type of growth.  Revival just takes off. 

That first revival started with one hundred-twenty people praying in an upstairs room, hiding for fear of the Jews, and it spread into a worldwide revival.  The Gospel has been heard in every country of the world, today.  It exploded like a raging forest fire. 

Taiwan is a crossroad.  We can reach the whole world from here.  Your city can be a crossroad, too. I believe that this revival can start, right now.  I believe that any church service or outreach could be the ignition point for revival.  We can be ignited today, or maybe revival can begin to blaze in more hearts this very week.  Take time today, to fervently pray for revival in your heart; in your church; in your city.  Purpose it in your heart to come to every service and seek God.  Don’t throw a wet blanket on the flames; let it build in your heart.  Invite someone to church and let it build in his or her heart, too.  Get out of control and let revival burn out of control.  Let’s steal the cry of 1968’s revolution, “Burn, baby; Burn!”

Disclaimer:  Recently, a woman saw our flyer, looked shocked and said, "You're trying to burn the world up."  Obviously, I'm not advocating that we start a huge fire and let it destroy things.  The call isn't for destruction, its for Revival!

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Are You Violent?

If you go to Disneyland, one of the things that you see at every ride is a zig-zag of  velvet ropes.  These are there for people to line up behind,  to insure a smooth and safe access to the ride.  But it isn't done the same way at Universal Studios.  In the interest of full disclosure, I have to tell you that I haven’t been there in many years, but the last time I was there, they didn't places for you to line up.  Instead they had a closed gate and everybody just kind of crowded around the gate.

The fun started when the gate was opened.  People began to crowd into the gate.  There was a bit of jostling and bumping, elbows were thrown, and maybe even a few toes got stepped on, as people rushed in to get the best seats.  You had to be aggressive to get a good seat.   The violent took the good seats.  It occurs to me that heaven may be a little like that.  Don’t just shut me down; I want you to think about this for a moment.

Have you ever felt that you weren't deserving of the grace that God poured out on your life?  Have you felt like you've done nothing to deserve what God’s done for you?  Well, it’s true you HAVE done NOTHING to merit God’s grace on your life, but neither have any of us.  God has done what God has done for reasons of His own.

Have you ever wondered why you’re saved and someone else isn't?  “Why have I been chosen or called out, when there are many others who are more religious:  Many others seem to be more like whom God would call? 

“I was just a sinner.  I didn't have anything God would want,” but when you say that you’re looking at things from your own perspective, which is different from God’s perspective. God doesn't see things in the way that you and I do.  He doesn't make judgments about men in the same way that we do.

1 Samuel 16:7 (NKJV)
16:7 But the Lord said to Samuel, "Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have refused him. For the Lord does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart."

So, God doesn't look at our position, or social standing, or religiosity.  He looks at the heart.

When Saul was made king, it was because the people demanded a king.  So Saul fit all the people’s expectations about what a king should be:

1 Samuel 9:1-2 (NKJV)
9:1 There was a man of Benjamin whose name was Kish the son of Abiel, the son of Zeror, the son of Bechorath, the son of Aphiah, a Benjamite, a mighty man of power. 2 And he had a choice and handsome son whose name was Saul. There was not a more handsome person than he among the children of Israel. From his shoulders upward he was taller than any of the people.

Aren't those some of the requirements that we look for in our political leaders?  God anointed him because that’s what the people wanted; a king like all the other nation’s kings.  When Saul sinned and the kingdom was taken from him, Samuel told him that God was looking for a man after his own heart.  God chose David.  He chose David because David had the kind of heart that God was looking for.  It didn't have anything to do with David’s religiousness.  It was thing of the heart.  It wasn't that David deserved to be king.  It was that he had a heart after God.  He desired God and God’s blessing in his life.

Who are we?  Are we those who deserve God’s blessing, or are we just the kind of people that God can use.  God doesn't choose us based on what we think is religious thought and action.  He doesn't choose us on the kind of thing that we think would appeal to God.  He didn't choose the Pharisees and the Sadducees.  They were the religious men of Jesus’ time and they were rejected, even though they thought they were close to God they were far from him.

Matthew 15:8-9 (NKJV)
15:8 'These people draw near to Me with their mouth, And honor Me with their lips, But their heart is far from Me. 9 And in vain they worship Me, Teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.' "

These are God’s thoughts on the religious.  So whom does He choose?  Look at whom Jesus chose for His ministry; common, unlearned men; fishermen.  He chose those that were thought to be profane:  Those that didn't have the religious education, or the refinement of position.  In short, He chose the common people; the off scouring of the earth:  People like you and I.  The ones of whom they said would never amount to anything.  These are the people of God.

Today I want to post on what it really takes to become a man or woman of God.  We receive from God by contending, by diligently seeking.  This post will tell us what kind of person can be rewarded because he or she has diligently sought what God will do. 

Matthew 11:12-15 (NKJV)
11:12 And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force. 13 For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John. 14 And if you are willing to receive it, he is Elijah who is to come. 15 He who has ears to hear, let him hear!

The Kingdom Suffers Violence

What does that mean, the kingdom of Heaven suffers violence? What is meant by the violent will take it by force?  The word violence here means that it’s forced.  For example, if someone breaks into your home or office.  If they smash the lock, kick in the door, or break a window, we would say that the building has suffered violence.  There was an entry that was by force.  People are breaking into Heaven.  They’re forcing their way into Heaven.

The Pharisees and other religious leaders thought they had a hold on heaven.  They thought they would be the only ones worthy to enter Heaven.  “For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John.”  The prophets and the law spoke of the way to Heaven as being only through strict obedience to the law.  We didn't have the covenant of Grace at that time, so the only way to Heaven was through keeping the law.  If you talked to Pharisees they thought that they were the only ones who kept it strictly, and so they were the only ones on their way to Heaven.

Luke 18:11-12 (NKJV)
18:11 The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, 'God, I thank You that I am not like other men--extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I possess.'

The scripture above is how Jesus saw them:  That they felt above it all; that their works are what will get them to Heaven.  This is why they were so offended by Jesus reaching out to sinners.

Luke 7:39 (NKJV)
7:39 Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, "This man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner."

Matthew 9:10-11 (NKJV)
9:10 Now it happened, as Jesus sat at the table in the house, that behold, many tax collectors and sinners came and sat down with Him and His disciples. 11 And when the Pharisees saw it, they said to His disciples, "Why does your Teacher eat with tax collectors and sinners?"

It was the sinners to whom he reached out, People like you and I.  Face it; we weren't the best choices.  How many of us were sinners:  Liars, drunks, thieves, addicts, and adulterers?  Pick your sin or sins from that list.  We wouldn't have been the choices of the religious leaders, and yet we’re the ones who have laid claim to the kingdom.  We've taken it by force.  The prophets and the law prophesied that the only way to Heaven was through the law, not grace.  It was only through living the way the Pharisees thought they were living, but John taught something different.  John called on us to repent.  We needed to repent in order to see the Kingdom of God.  He doesn't preach about the law.  His message is repent for the Kingdom of God is at hand.

Matthew 3:1-8 (NKJV)
3:1 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2 and saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!" 3 For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah, saying: "The voice of one crying in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord; Make His paths straight.' " 4 And John himself was clothed in camel's hair, with a leather belt around his waist; and his food was locusts and wild honey. 5 Then Jerusalem, all Judea, and all the region around the Jordan went out to him 6 and were baptized by him in the Jordan, confessing their sins. 7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, "Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance,

So John preaches a doctrine of repentance.  It isn't a doctrine that says we must live to the law, but that we need to repent and it holds even to this day, because that’s what we preach, “Repent!”

Acts 2:38 (NKJV)
2:38 Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

This isn't saying live unto the law, it says repent.  That’s what peter is preaching, and if you've read enough of this blog, you know that’s what we’re preaching, too.

Without repentance sin is not remitted.  The sin is not paid.  We must repent for the remission of sin.  Remission literally means that the price has been paid.  When you receive a bill it says next to the amount owed, “please remit this amount:” Please send away this amount.  We send in our money and the bill is remitted.  The price goes away.  So the remission of sin doesn't just mean our sin has been forgiven, it means the sin has been sent away.  If we want to see our sin sent away, we need to repent.  Then we are able to enter into the kingdom.

And this is what I call the “Doctrine of Violence.”  This is what it means to say the Kingdom suffers violence.  We have by passed the law and we have broken into Heaven.  Instead of going through gates marked “The Law.”  We have broken down those gates and the battering ram that we used is repentance.  We don’t deserve to be there.  We sinned, we broke the law, and we haven’t lived it out.   The iniquity that stains our souls is the mark that keeps us from entering in.  But repentance causes that iniquity to be washed with the blood of Jesus and the mark is gone.  We are able to step in.  We’re there by grace. We’re there by mercy.  We’re there by our repentance and His remission of our sin. 

He has paid the price and our repentance declares our commitment to that grace.  “I’m sorry that my sin put Him on the cross, but His crucifixion will not be in vain.  The price He paid for my freedom will not be taken for granted.  I’m not going to live in a way that will cause Him any more suffering.”  That’s repentance.  This is the violence that the Kingdom suffers.  This is breaking and entering into Heaven.

It Comes Down to Faith

All of this is predicated on faith. We take on faith that Christ is who He said He was.  We take on faith that His death on the cross is atonement for our sin.  It’s the same faith Abraham had in Hebrews 11:6:

Hebrews 11:6 (NKJV)
11:6 But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.

It’s by faith that we believe He is.  It’s by faith that we diligently seek Him, and receive the reward of our diligence.  It’s by and through faith that we are the violent that take the Kingdom by force.

I had a guy ask me once, “How do you know thirteen guys didn't just decide to get together and write The Bible?”  By Faith.  “How do you know that this isn't just the greatest con game in history?  By Faith.  “How do you know that God will answer your prayers?”  By Faith.

Hebrews 11:1 (NKJV)
11:1 Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.

Faith is the substance of things hoped for.  This word substance means that this is the fleshing out.  In other words this is the reality of the thing that’s hoped for.  It’s the evidence of things not seen.  Evidence is an outward indication of the existence of some fact or some thing.  So what is faith?  It’s our hope made real and that what we can’t see exists.  So, we’re saved because we believe God became man, in the person of Jesus Christ, and that his shed blood has atoned for our sin.  We also believe that our repentance gains us access to Heaven.  We take these things on faith and that faith is our salvation. 

We have taken the gates of Heaven by force, and if we have used force to enter then we are the people of violence; the violent.  So then question in this is, “Are you violent, or are you suffering from milquetoast faith.  Do you know what milquetoast is?  It’s toast that has been soaked in milk to make it soft, to take the hardness away, to make it palatable.

Are You Violent?

The church world today seems to be a church of milquetoast faith.  Many churches believe the Gospel is too hard for people to bear.  We need to soften it up   We don’t want to offend the sinners by confronting sin; by telling them that their sin offends God. 

You know, I would have never gotten saved if the Gospel didn't hit me right between the eyes, “Here’s what you’re guilty of, now what are you going to do with that?”   I dealt with it in the only way I could; I repented.  I stepped out in faith.  I said, "God I hope you’re real, I hope the that your promises are true."  Jesus Christ and his atoning blood are the substance of the things I hoped for.

Who are you?  Are you one of the violent, or are you afraid to step out in faith and break down the gates of Heaven.  It’s the violent that come into the kingdom; men and women of action; men and women who will get on their knees and fight. 

I praise God for our fellowship's leadership, who are not blown around by every wind and doctrine:  Leaders who don’t get involved with every religious fad.  Leaders that have committed themselves to a course that will constantly press the battle right to the gates of Hell. When you think about it, that’s what this is, a battle. 

Have you ever noticed how many references there are to battle and soldiers in the Bible?  Christianity isn't just a simple thing.  It’s not a feel-good Gospel. It’s a battle that must be fought.  There’s no room in Christianity for milquetoast faith or a milquetoast Gospel.  This is a life and death struggle and if you’re going to survive it you’d better be a hardened fighter.  You better use all the tools at your disposal. 

Do you know how battles are won?  Battles are won by breaking through the enemy’s defensive positions and forcing the army through the gates of the city and capturing it.  How do we win the war we’re engaged in?  THE SAME WAY, by pushing through the enemy’s lines and taking the Kingdom by force.  We are called to be men and women of violence:  Not physical violence, but spiritual violence.  We’re called to storm the gates of Heaven.  Are you Violent?

Disclaimer:  I am not advocating for physically violent behavior.  I’m expressing my thoughts on the Bible statement that the “Kingdom of heaven suffers violence and the violent will take the Kingdom by force.”  This is a commentary on spiritual violence.